Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Why Diagnose The Political? Part Two

A first point is to acknowledge that if we were simply diagnosing to dismiss, it would be a contemptible dodge. To simply say “I reject environmentalist arguments because all concern for the environment derives from neurotic fears of annihiation, probably stemming from not having children” would of course be ludicrous.

But some similar or derivative statements would not be ludicrous. An environmentalist might do or say other things in the mix that would arouse suspicion. She might be red-faced and screaming (or the print equivalent ALL CAPS). She might use an unusual amount of religious imagery for this political/scientific subject. She might be unusually focussed on the fact that her opponents make money. Any of these things would be a red flag to not only a professional, but an observant layman.

A red flag is not sufficient for diagnosis. It does invite the professional to look further. I have read antiwar commenters claiming “Bush lied.” This is where additional data comes in, because the comment is repeated. Often. Now, W’s comments under their worst interpretation were misleading, or stupid, or exaggerated, but they were not lies, and this has been frequently pointed out. At about the thousandth repetition after refutation, a good therapist begins to gently question the patient “This seems to be an important issue to you. You bring it up often. Is there another possible explanation for what happened?” Encountering resistance to such a suggestion provides more information.

A single such item may or may not be a concern depending on other factors. Even a cluster of similar items might excite only mild curiosity. Bush lied. Unilateral. Dictator. Moron. “Hmm, there seems to be a lot of hyperbole here…troubling…oh well…next question.”

What we are now encountering are a great many suggestive, and initially puzzling, statements and behaviors from the left. That’s an awful lot of condescension and energy from a colleague for an offhand political comment. Why does she always bring up how poorly her profession is paid? This newspaper uses every evasion for the word “terrorist” it can find. He keeps accusing other people of having sexual issues. Why is he using only half the economic data? We look for patterns.

This is not any different from what everyone else does navigating through life. What’s up with her? Have you noticed that everyone over there freaks whenever we mention the Comex account? He’s got this thing for dependent women. Novelists and playwrights make their livings by illustrating people’s motivations in more skillful and interesting ways than average folk. Or at least pretending to in ways that we average folk like.

It may surprise people to know that there are several sciences which attempt to understand these phenomena in systematic ways. There are hard sciences such as neurology and psychiatry, and softer ones like psychology and sociology, which contain people who have thought about these things for more than 30 minutes straight. More than most fields, the soft and hard sciences interpenetrate in this area. Though there is enormous disagreement about what causes things, there is a common vocabulary, and a common understanding of what things tend to go together. People who were sexually abused as children are more likely to have personality disorders. Even though there are many who were abused who do not go on to become BPD’s, and some adult Borderlines who do not appear to have sexual trauma in their childhood, there is clearly some connection here. Depression seems to have many causes, but some few factors recur frequently enough that we look for them first.

These are not connections and patterns we have dreamed up out of our heads. They are the result of years of observation by others and a considerable body of evidence. Modifications will continue to occur, as we try to refine the categories. And most clinicians do treat the categories cautiously – more cautiously than is popularly supposed – because we know that more than one thing is happening in any individual.

Knowing the categories gives an enormous speed advantage to understanding a situation. When a cluster of symptoms normally associated with narcissism shows up, we have a further list of things to look for immediately, to see if our suspicions are confirmed. When a person is using a particular defense mechanism, that gives us clues as to where to look further and what to explore.

When a category of people generally exhibits a cluster of responses that would be symptoms in an individual, we look for the other items likely to be related. If we find them, we might well give it a diagnosis.

For example, there have been analyses by those wanting to vote out Joe Lieberman that he is not disliked because he was for the war, but because he was so closely tied to Bush, worshipped Bush, was Bush’s butt-boy, etc. But the evidence is that Lieberman voted against Bush on other issues more frequently than the average Democrat. Leftist Democrats have the strong impression that he was too close to Bush, but their impression does not square with the data. The strong impression is wrong.

Psychological types like to puzzle at this point. Given that their claim does not fit the data, what caused them to get it wrong? We try on various explanations until we find one which seems to best fit the evidence. Projection seems a good place to start, and you might read up on it and see for yourself if it fits. The key point is that such examining of motives becomes fair game only when it is established that someone reached the wrong answer (You can come to the right answer for the wrong reasons, especially in politics, but we usually leave folks alone on that, perhaps dropping a hint). The technique can then be reapplied on issues where the correct answer is debatable or the issues mixed, but with less reliability. For example, they support welfare reform because they don’t want to admit how much their own success was a product of luck. That analysis may be partly true, completely true, or not true at all. Without a lot of further information about the persons in question, we can’t make a determination. If we start reading numerous op-eds in which the proponents of welfare reform keeping referring to how hard they’ve worked, and we know that’s not true, we begin to have some ground on which to accuse them. If we get further info that behind closed doors they are expressing their delight at the opportunity to punish the poor in general, all of whom they believe are lazy, then we have more evidence, and we might hazard a diagnosis of the symptom. To assume the symptoms are present is not allowable.


jw said...

You make some good points.

There is also a political attachment to psychology and psychiatry which you miss. Like any field of endeavour, there is inherent politics within the profession. Fifty years ago being gay was being "sick." Homosexuality was a symptom and a classification. Thus, an inbuilt error.

I've made no secret of my own problem with psychology / psychiatry: Six out of six flatly stated 'There are no men raped by women so you cannot have been hurt by such a crime.' Now, obviously the six were wrong as there are a few such convictions every year.

The point being psychology & psychiatry have inbuilt errors. These errors hurt some people, today mostly men. These errors are political errors of the Martha Mitchel form, ie stating a truth is a non-truth.

I harp on this because I expect the profession to make changes. I expect the profession to accept that there are political errors and the make allowances based on the fact that political errors can and do hurt people.

Thus, I take the Shaw stance: "The reasonable man conforms himself to his culture. The unreasonable man forces his culture to conform to him. Thus, all progress and all good stem ultimately from the unreasonable man."

My blog/forum complaint has always been that psychology continues attempt to diagnose valid politics. Politics is/are not a diagnosable condition. Politics is/are an attempt to make a change in the world itself.

So, to my way of seeing things, to the psychologist, as there is no system in place to differentiate between valid politics and ordinary human discourse, the therapist sometimes attempts to diagnose the political. This is like attempting to Julian the knife.

copithorne said...

It an axiom of Jungian psychology that people do not start wars unless they are occupied by projection as a primary defense. It is not possible to organize that level of violence unless you are projecting your own shadow onto an enemy.

That defense is reflected in these sorts of posts.

In the conservative psychologizing of "the left" that I follow -- Dr. Sanity, Shrinkwrapped, Gagdad, SC&A, AVI, you just about never see any actual quotes of actual "leftists." Even when I ask, they are unable to produce any examples of what they are discussing. They are talking about a creatures of their own imagination and this bugaboo serves some internal purpose within they psyche of the authors.

When writing an essay, there is going to be a thesis and supporting evidence and arguments. This psychologizing of "the left" doesn't include evidence and arguments. That departure from the form of essay writing is going to be a symptom.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Interesting who you think is starting the war.

It's not going to make any difference, copithorne, because we've had these discussions before.

Or you could just hang around these places at your leisure.

I know, I know. There's going to be sometyhing wrong with each of them so that they don't count.

copithorne said...

You still have not been able to write about disagreements you have with the actual views of actual people.